After 16 years of being with the same person, the idea of dating again was a little bit exciting, but also hugely scary. Obviously, I was not the same physically as I was last time I did this, but then that is also true for all the other 40/50 something lonely hearts out there. Bodies aren’t quite as firm, wrinkles are more pronounced, hair isn’t quite as thick or colourful, and we’ve all slowed down a bit. On top of this, 95% of my body doesn’t work, and I’m generally chaperoned by a Carer. Just guessing, but I imagine that neither of these things would be on every woman’s must have list.
The first thing that I noticed was that dating has changed. In the good old days you’d meet somebody, or see somebody who you were attracted to. You’d then create opportunities to meet them again and again to try and get to know them. If you hadn’t made a complete idiot of yourself or discovered something annoying about them, and if it looked like they might be vaguely interested in you, you might then drum up enough courage to ask them out on a date. I do remember my first attempt at this while waiting for the school bus. Thinking how awkward it would be to get rejected and to then have to stand there until the bus came, I waited until the last possible moment to say “will you go out with me?”. The answer was “yes”. I gave a peck on the cheek and ran onto the bus with butterflies in my tummy, but not really knowing what going out meant, or what to do differently the next day. I think it meant an end to me playing football at lunch times, and paying even less attention in class. I did get slightly better at this as I got older, but I wouldn’t say I was ever naturally gifted.
Now aged forty something, I thought about where to meet women? Club 18 to 30 holidays weren’t an option, and actually were never really my scene. I had once been on a holiday to Kavos in Corfu with 3 mates. After a few days we hired a car and drove to another part of the island and played golf. Clubbing wasn’t for me, I’ve never been particularly cool and trendy, and to my surprise I was informed on this holiday that red speedo’s aren’t a good look. I’m quite pale skinned and have freckles, I burn easily, and before grey took over I had ginger tendencies. To be successful in this environment I think you need a tan, muscles, a sense of rhythm, self confidence, great chat up lines, and a football shirt. University, through sport, or at work, had been where I had got to know women in the past. Now, most people seemed to be already married, and I had few chances to meet new single people. Playing wheelchair rugby with a load of blokes in Wales wasn’t a rich seam of opportunity, and sailing is quite an individual sport.
Since last dating the world had changed. Mobile phones and the Internet were widely available and used by everybody. There appears to be dating sites available for whatever you’re interested in: Russian bikini brides, people in uniform, people out of uniform, fish, amputees, over 40s, Christians; whatever you fancy. It’s like shopping! Briefly, I had the idea of trying the bikini bride route and replacing them every few years as they aged, but apparently they are not all sincere, genuine and honest. Who’d have thought it? I’m sure I’d soon get bored of having toned, skinny, blue-eyed, blond babes around me all the time anyway. Actually, I have always been attracted to people who are fun, have a nice smile, and who are just natural. Growing up I was in love with Felicity Kendall in “The Good Life”.
First of all I had to decide which dating site to try out. I decided that I didn’t have a particular niche, although nurses uniforms are quite sexy; so I’d just go for a mainstream dating site. Next, should I go for a free site, or should I pay? Would the quality of women be better from a pay site? Not knowing the answer to this I tried both. Then there’s the sites that try to find you somebody based on your “eHarmony” with them. This involves a lengthy questionnaire of ridiculous questions which then determines what percentage fit you will have. I spent 3 hours completing this questionnaire! The last question was “are you single?”. At the time, my divorce had not been finalised, and to go on this site you had to show evidence that you are divorced. Just saying: Shouldn’t this question be first? So I was rejected before I even started. I decided to go on Plenty of Fish and Match.com.
Being involved in marketing, you’d think that writing an ad about yourself would be easy, but it’s really not. You have to try to second guess what a woman would be looking for in a man. Given that i’d read “why women can’t read maps, and men don’t listen”, and “men are from Mars and Women are from Venus”; this is a good indication that I don’t have a clue what women want. The general consensus seems to be that men have got more in common with baboons than members of the opposite sex, and that any attempts to understand irrational thought patterns and arguments are futile. Empathy and a lot of wine seems to be a behaviour that keeps things on an even keel. Looking at myself and my situation, finding the right words to make me attractive to anybody was difficult. Should I be open and honest about my disability, which I thought would severely limit any interest, or not mention it at all and mention it once I had had an opportunity to get to know them a bit. Obviously being a man I made the wrong call on this by deciding to go down the route of keeping the disability hidden until such a time that it had to be mentioned. Clearly, hiding being paralysed from the shoulders down is hard, so something had to be said before meeting. Nothing could have prepared me for the reaction from one of the women I had been talking to: “That’s entrapment” she said, “What are people like you doing on a dating site?”. I was speechless. Did people really believe that disabled people shouldn’t have relationships?
As you can imagine, that reaction didn’t do much for my confidence. Fortunately, this was not common, and I went on a few dates, even after I had explained my position. The thing is that having to discuss the constraints of your disability isn’t the ideal start to a new relationship. There were some people who didn’t really ask very much or seem to care, and others who wanted to know exactly what the implications would be. It’s very bizarre to have this kind of conversation with a person you’ve never met, may have no interest in, and may never see again. Obviously dating should be a fun, exciting experience; getting to know each other’s personalities without having to contemplate “the elephant in the room”; what would the implications be of getting into a relationship with me? I had a lot of interests with my rugby and sailing, and loads of experiences to talk about, so actually the experience of first conversations came quite naturally to me, and actually I was ok about discussing the elephant because I felt that people needed to know what they were getting into, otherwise there would be no point.
Actually meeting for a date was quite nerve wracking. When you are completely dependent on somebody to get you in or out of a car, to help you into wherever you are going, to get your wallet and money, to get you a drink, to cut up your food etc; you feel very vulnerable. It takes a lot of trust. Where is it best to meet, and what should you do to create a good impression? My options are quite limited.
The outside world is more disabling than my home because things are set up there to enable me to do more for myself. If I was meeting somebody for a coffee I would get my Carer to take me to a coffee shop early so that the person I was meeting would not see me struggling to get through a room full of tables and chairs to find a table I could actually get my legs under, to get a special plastic cup out that I can use, to pay for my drink, to leave me with my phone and wallet, and to make arrangements for getting picked up again. It felt like I was getting dropped off by my Mum. All that was missing was the spit on a hanky to remove the remains of a jam sandwich from my cheek. Although I wish they had. Lol.
The alternative was to get people to come to my house. I don’t know if it’s just me, but that seems inappropriate for a first meeting. The benefits of this though are as I say; I look less disabled because I can do more in my own home. There is of course the issue of explaining who the Carer is, and the need for them to make a coffee for the guest, or to get my date to make their own coffee. Then I’d either tell the Carer to disappear for a while, or they’d be shuffling around upstairs, and sometimes I felt spied on and judged. Another option is to meet at the house and wheel into town because with my emotion wheels I can virtually push there and back. There are bits that I can’t do by myself, so anybody who was taking me out required a short briefing on what to do, where my emergency medication was in case of Autonomic Dysreflexia, and how to contact my Carer. It sort of felt like being handed over to a babysitter. This is also weather dependent because when it rains I can no longer push my chair, even with emotion wheels; I have no active grip in my hands.
I decided that being up front and honest about my disability in my profile would be much easier, so that is what I did next……